What’s Your North Star?

Many credit unions talk about mission, vision, and values. But even a guiding light requires people to look up and follow it.

I’ve noticed a trend lately. When I tell you about it, you’ll start to notice it, too.

I’ve noticed lately that everyone is always looking down.

Whether waiting for a streetlight to change, walking down the street, or standing in line for coffee whatever is happening on the small screen seems to hold our attention much more intensely than what’s happening around us.

Sure, the offices of Callahan & Associates are located in Washington, DC, a major metropolitan city in the mid-Atlantic, but I’ve noticed this phenomenon at organizations I’ve visited and at events I’ve attended in cities across America.

Now, don’t worry. This is when I tell you I’m not on a phone rant I’m on a focus crusade.

The world is moving at an ever-increasing speed, and the constant connection between our virtual and physical worlds keeps our personal and professional lives hopelessly or hopefully intertwined. However, if we don’t make time to focus on what is important, our lives will become a practice in simply maintaining the status quo or worse, our lives will become irrelevant.

Leverage Your Mission For Greater Impact

Sustainable Business Strategy with Rebecca Henderson, in collaboration with Harvard Business School Online, explores how organizations that lead with their mission and values and focus on their purpose see lower turnover, higher returns and have greater community impact; proving it is possible to do well while doing good.


To avoid this fate, it’s imperative that we have a North Star on which to focus, one that breaks through the noise and distraction of the daily world around us.

I try to commit my time, energy, and talent to the things that matter most. That’s my North Star. I don’t come to work each morning for a paycheck although I do have a lifestyle to maintain. I come to work each morning to make a difference, have a positive impact, and leave my mark on my one small corner of the world. I suspect I am not too different from others who work in the credit union industry the paycheck is important, but it’s not the reason we do what we do.

So, why do we do what we do? The answer for any credit union lies in its North Star purpose.

And, how can we ensure we get more time and resources to do it? By following the organization’s purpose roadmap its Mission, Vision, and Values.

I can’t overstate the importance of mission, vision, and values. They provide direction when you’re at a fork in the road, they guide the use of time and talent, they align your team, and, most importantly, they drive better business results when implemented correctly. Together, statements of mission, vision, and values provide direction for everything that happens in an organization. They focus everyone on where the organization is going and what it is trying to achieve.

See It In Action

These credit unions are living their mission and leading with purpose. Learn how they do it.

  • Rob Miller On Leadership: How an economic developer, money manager, and keen collaborator at the helm is empowering a green revolution at Vermont State Employees Credit Union.
  • How A Financial Cooperative Became A Voice For Social Justice: St. Louis Community Credit Union strives to be a positive force, and it has the impact report to prove it.
  • How A $40B Institution Treats 2.4M Members: By concentrating on member service, State Employees Credit Union has forged a path to continued growth.

However, simply having these statements isn’t enough. The credit union its employees, leadership, board members, and more must take these statements off the walls and live them in the halls of the organization.

I’ve read some inspiring statements from successful credit unions over the years. I’m sure I’ll discover hundreds more before I’m done serving the movement. But, is everyone who makes up this industry really living our mission every day, in every interaction?

In trying to keep pace in today’s complex, ever-changing landscape, I fear our movement is focusing on outcomes over purpose. If you visit five credit union websites or read five credit union advertisements, I suspect you’ll find they lead with outcomes lower fees and higher savings rates, for example. But as organizations that purport to be purpose-driven and values-based, credit unions are not fully living their mission if they are not leading with purpose.

So, it’s time to polish up those mission, vision, and values statements, and make them part of every decision, every day, in every position.

In Bring Your Human to Work, author Erica Keswin talks about ways to build a human workplace that honors relationships and values authenticity and openness.

Your brand is never better than your employees, Keswin says. And your employees are never better than the degree to which they are engaged in the reason your company exists.

Credit unions exist for a great reason, one that is not based in fees or rates. It’s time to start focusing on your North Star. Lead with purpose, and give your employees, your leaders, your board members, and more a meaningful reason to engage with members and the movement around them.

October 14, 2019

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